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Full text of "Moses Ashley Curtis, 1808-1872 : teacher, priest, scientist"

DEDICATION 

OF A 

MEMORIAL 

TO 

MOSES ASHLEY CURTIS 

Churchyard 
ST. MATTHEWS EPISCOPAL CHURCH 

HlLLBOROUGH, NORTH CAROLINA 

APRIL 25, 1970 
4:00 P.M. 

PUBLIC EVENING LECTURE 
ON DR. CURTIS 
Strudwick Hall 
8:00 P.M. 



DEDICATION 



REVEREND LAUTON W. PETTIT 
RECTOR OF ST. MATTHEW'S 

INVOCATION 

EULOGY OF MOSES ASHLEY CURTIS 
READING OF Benedicite, omnia opera Domini 
Selected reading from HEBREWS, Chapter II 
PRAYER OF DEDICATION 
BENEDICTION 

cv9Go 

PUBLIC EVENING LECTURE 
by 

MRS. ROBERT B. COOKE 
and 

CHARLES H. BLAKE 

Text of the Plaque 

MOSES ASHLEY CURTIS 
1808 1872 

TEACHER - MINISTER - AUTHOR - SCIENTIST 
SCION OF NOTABLE NEW ENGLAND FAMILIES 
SYMPATHETIC TO THE CAUSE OF THE CONFEDERACY 
MARRIED IN 1834 TO MARY deROSSET OF THE 
DISTINGUISHED NORTH CAROLINA FAMILY 
ORDAINED TO THE MINISTRY IN 1835 
RECTOR: LINCOLNTON, 1835-1837; WASHINGTON, 1840-1841 
HILLSBOROUGH, 1941-1847; 1856-1872 
SOCIETY HILL, SOUTH CAROLINA, 1847-1856 
A WORLD AUTHORITY ON FUNGI 
IN 1867 HIS PUBLISHED LIST OF 4800 NORTH CAROLINA 
PLANTS WAS THE LARGEST NORTH AMERICAN REGIONAL LIST 



CURTIS MEMORIAL COMMITTEE 
Mr. Alexander R. Shepherd, Chairman 
Mr. and Mrs. Robert B. Cooke 
Miss Rebecca B. Wall 

Mrs. James Webb 
Miss Annie Cameron 
Mrs. Marion B. Roberts 
Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Blake 



MOSES ASHLEY CURTIS, D. D. 
1808-1872 



Moses Ashley Curtis, clergyman and scientist, born in 
Stockbridge, Massachusetts, May 11, 1808, was the son of 
Jared Curtis, graduate of Williams College, merchant, prin- 
cipal of Stockbridge Academy, long-time chaplain of the 
state prison at Charleston, Mass., and Thankful, daughter of 
General Moses Ashley. Mark Hopkins was a cousin. 

A graduate of Williams College in 1827, Moses Ashley 
Curtis developed a lasting interest in the natural sciences 
under the influence of Professors Chester Dewey and Amos 
Eaton. 

For two years following graduation, Moses Curtis taught 
in Massachusetts. From 1830-1833 he was engaged as a 
tutor in Wilmington, North Carolina, in the home of Ed- 
ward B. Dudley, a wealthy shipper and merchant and later 
governor of this state. With Dr. James F. McRee he studied 
the varied flora of this coastal region. Assiduous plant col- 
lecting produced in less than two years Curtis' list of over 
1,000 species of flowering plants entitled "Enumeration of 
Plants Growing Spontaneously Around Wilmington, North 
Carolina, with Remarks On Some New and Obscure 
Species," published in the Journal of the Boston Society of 
Natural History (May, 1835). 

Music classes also engaged part of the young tutor's time 
and among his pupils was his future wife, a daughter of the 
prominent deRosset family, Mary Jane, whom he married 
on December 3, 1834. 

Early in the winter of 1833 Moses Ashley Curtis began 
the study of theology under the Rev. William Croswell in 
Boston, returning to Wilmington in 1834 and continuing his 
studies with the Rev. Robert Brent Drane, Rector of St. 
James Episcopal Church. Ordained as a Deacon in Rich- 
mond, Virginia on May 31, 1835, he served in mission work 
in western North Carolina until the end of 1836, residing at 
Lincolnton. On missionary journeys in the section many 
specimens of piedmont flora were gathered for his growing 
herbarium. 

From January, 1837, until early in 1840 Mr. Curtis was 
at the Episcopal School for Boys in Raleigh (now St. Mary's 
College), most of the time as headmaster of the school. At 
his ordination as Priest by Bishop Silliman Ives on May 26, 
1839, in Christ Church, Raleigh, was sung an anthem "How 
Beautiful Upon the Mountains" which he had composed for 
use at his Diaconate ordination earlier. He was stationed at 
Washington, N.C., in 1840-41, and he wrote Asa Gray that 
he did little or no botanical work. 

St. Matthew's Church, Hillsborough, called Mr. Curtis in 
1841 where he remained until his death on April 10, 1872, 
except for the years 1847-1856 when he served at Trinity 
Episcopal Church, Society Hill, South Carolina. His manu- 
script "Birds of Society Hill, S.C., Landbirds and Water- 
birds" attests to his continuing interest in other biological 
fields, as did his long-continued correspondence with 
eminent scientists of this country and abroad. These letters, 

f>502H 



which began in 1834, to John Torrey, Asa Gray, Edward 
Tuckerman, Jr., Henry William Ravenel, Miles Joseph 
Berkeley, and others form a large and important part of the 
2100 items in the Curtis collection in the University of 
North Carolina Library at Chapel Hill. 

Late in the 1830's Mr. Curtis decided to specialize in the 
study of the fungi, on which he published his first paper in 
1848. This important and numerous assemblage of lower 
plants was then but poorly known in North America. He 
was soon collaborating with the accomplished English 
mycologist, the Rev. Miles Joseph Berkeley. They appear as 
joint authors of five important papers in the period 
1851-1869. During the Civil War he tried to encourage the 
use of mushrooms for food and prepared a manuscript on 
the subject. This was illustrated with excellent colored 
drawings by his son, Charles. Asa Gray referred to Moses 
Curtis as "the highest American authority" on this group of 
plants. 

Besides being an influential Episcopal clergyman, serving 
on Diocesan committees and as convention preacher and in 
demand as a lyceum speaker, the Rev. Moses Curtis was a 
man of varied interests. A composer and musician, playing 
the piano, flute, and organ, he sometimes also served as 
choirmaster. He was fluent in German, French, Greek, 
Hebrew, and Latin. 

A devoted husband and father, the family often traveled 
to concerts in the large cities of the north as well as within 
the state. Only two of the Curtis' ten children, Moses 
Ashley and Mary Louisa, have descendants, some of whom 
live in North Carolina. 

For his services in many fields of endeavor, Moses 
Ashley Curtis was awarded in 1852 the Doctor of Divinity 
degree by the University of North Carolina. 

In 1857 Dr. Curtis served on the committee which 
selected the site for the University of the South at Sewanee, 
Tennessee. A member of the Board of Trustees from 1847 
until his death in 1872, he faithfully undertook many ar- 
duous trips for meetings of the Board. 

We can judge of Dr. Curtis' standing as a botanist 
through the respect which is evident in his relations with 
other botanists of his own day. Certainly Asa Gray, the 
most famous American botanist of his day, would hardly 
have corresponded so long with anyone whom he did not 
regard as having attainments of nearly his own level. This is 
even more true of Berkeley, who was also a mycologist. The 
respect of his contemporaries is shown by the material en- 
trusted to him for description: the collection of the U. S. 
Exploring Expedition, Fendler's Venezuelan, Wright's 
Cuban specimens and others. Further, appreciative memoirs 
concerning Curtis have appeared as recently as 1919. Curtis 
achieved in his lifetime an international reputation in his 
chosen specialty and the passage of years has not dimmed 
that reputation. The originality and vitality of Dr. Curtis' 
work lives today in the sciences that he did so much to 
develop.